Buena sera, ragazzi.

Apologies for the delay. I spent my morning trekking over parts of ancient Rome with Daniela, my tutor, and learning about Punic Wars. Spent my afternoon studying the Punic Wars and discovering exactly WHERE one might find Carthage. Glass of vino in hand, I am now not only a lot smarter, I am also ready to return to more contemporary matters and write this week&Mac226;s installment.

Let's go to the cinema.

Now, we all know that Italy has contributed massively to the worlds of film and filmmaking. In addition to superstars such as Marcello Mastroanni, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollabrigida, Claudia Cardinale, Roberto Benigni and Anna Magnani, to name but a few, there are the great directors: Fellini, DeSica, Pasolini, Bertolucci.

With this great history behind them, then, you would THINK that Italians, like their Gallic neighbours to the north, would know something --- anything --- about proper etiquette for the cinema, no?


Imagine the following scene. It's a Thursday evening. You've been dutifully conserving Euros for a couple of nights now. You switch on the TV and flick through the offerings. Your choices are: RAI News brought to you by glamorous women with huge hair, lots of make-up and tons of cleavage; game shows involving screaming blondes in high heels and very bright tops jumping into the laps of bald men; topless something or another (weather, chat shows, etc.); a dubbed episode of a really bad American cop show from the mid 1980s; OR, a dubbed Hollywood film with Jack Palance speaking perfect Italian and rolling his rrrrrrr&Mac226;s as he draws his pistol and shoots. „Prrrrrrrronto, parrrrrrrdnerrrrrrrrr."

Okay, forget it. But, hey, this is Italy. A movie-mad country. And this is Roma, a movie-mad citta. I know! I'll go out. I'll go see a film, you say to yourself.

So, you take out the handy weekly guide, Roma Ce, the self-proclaimed authoritative guide to what's happening in Rome. Now, work your way through the cinema listings. This being the Land of Bureaucracy Superbus, there are 22 categories, ranging from Azione (Action) to Drammatico (Drama), Guerra (War, which is evidently not dramatic), Serio (which is serious but not dramatic or about war...), etc.

The week's films are then further segmented into highly sensible subgroupings: New Releases, Premier Showings (which differs from New Releases because it includes films released that same day AND films from 1980&Mac183;.this week's Roma Ce counts 21 Grams, The Last Samurai and The Elephant Man among the Premier Showings&Mac183;), Other Films (cryptologists are still working out the difference between the films in this category and those in the previous two) and, finally, Lingua Originale: films shown in their original languages.

Ah, now we're getting somewhere. English-language films. So, focusing on Lingua Originale&Mac183;

There are, OF COURSE, subsets even within this category. However, it's fairly straightforward. Basically, you can have an English-language film with Italian subtitles OR you can have an English-language film without any subtitling. The magic word „sottotitolo will tell you which is which.

So let's look at each of these separately, for the experiences are vastly different.

Scenario One: Going to see a Subtitled Film

You queue (line) up outside the theatre (theater). The film, which has been billed as, say, „Something's Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, is scheduled to show at 14:55. It is now, oh, sometime around 14:30. The theatre is shut tight and the lights are out. Surely there must be some problem? A fire, perhaps? Ah, but wait, there's a sign on the door. It says: Cinema opens at 15:00. Okay, so riddle me this. If the movie starts at 14:55, why does the theatre open at 15:00?


At 14:58 or so, an extremely well-dressed man saunters over and unlocks the doors. At this stage, the crowd, comprising mostly Italians, abandons all pretense of order and mayhem is unleashed. In a scene worthy of Cecil B. DeMille, THOUSANDS push into the cinema. Everyone is shouting at everyone else. A small, elderly woman, sporting a full length mink coat (Yes, it IS 67 degrees outside, but Italians are guided solely by the calendar; it's February, therefore you wear your fur. If your thighs melt in the process, so be it), maneuvers her way not around the bulging „line but UNDER YOUR ARMS AND THROUGH YOUR LEGS. No kidding.

You get to the ticket desk and ask for one seat for the 14:55 (it's now 15:10, of course) showing of „Something's Gotta Give.

„No. Eeeeet's a not playing.


„Theeeeees-a movie, a no playing.

I pull out my trusty Roma Ce and point to the entry. „But it says here&Mac183;

Woman shakes her head. „No. Eeeeees-a wrong. Today we show ŒAmore Senza Confini.'

It takes a while until I realize that the film that's showing is "Beyond Borders" the Angelina Jolie flick featuring a white linen wardrobe for aid work in Africa and a black fur-trimmed number for the Chechen rescue scene.

Oh, what the hell? It's in English. It features Clive Owen. What could be bad about two hours in the dark with a hunk in sweaty African climes?

Now. You'll remember this is a film with sottotitolo. What this means is that it is basically an opportunity to run a film in the background and provide a nice, cosy, intimate setting for a protracted personal conversation. EVERYBODY TALKS. Some people even talk about the movie. Not the plot, of course, just the clothes and make-up.

„Oh, I like that outfit. I think it's Valentino.

„Nah. Not Valentino. It's Prada. I saw it last year in Milano.

„Terrible lipstick for her. Her mouth looks like the Colosseum.

Other people discuss more personal things.

„So I told him I won't have that putta [whore] in my house. Mai! Basta!

„Certo! agrees the friend in something akin to a stage whisper.

THIS GOES ON FOR THE DURATION OF THE FILM. When they leave the theatre, you can hear people saying things like, „Did you like the film? I didn't really understand it, did you? OF COURSE YOU DIDN'T UNDERSTAND IT. WHO THE HELL CAN HEAR (OR READ) WITH ALL THAT RACKET???????

Okay. So, that leads to:

Scenario Two: A Film Without Subtitles.


It's extraordinary, no doubt about it.

Moral of the story: Don't get your heart set on seeing any particular film. Go with the flow. If you THINK you're in the mood for Jude Law (and who wouldn't be), be open to an evening or afternoon with Jack Lemmon (see under Premier Showings for films made in the mid-60s). And, finally, learn to appreciate silent pictures. For the truth is, you won't hear a f-ckin' thing in an Italian cinema!

Viva Italia.


X A.


© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004